Was Kamuzu Banda a despot or democrat?: Mungomo series on Ngwazi, Part 1

The Malawi Congress Party recently announced that it would this year be celebrating Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s official birthday, the 14th May, scrapped by the UDF in its quest to re-write history. It is very brave of Dr. Lazarus Chakwera to cast all political caution to the wind and finally do it, where his two immediate predecessors dared not.

Ngwazi Kamuzu Banda: Founding president of Malawi

Ngwazi Kamuzu Banda: Founding president of Malawi

It is said after all, that history is written by the victors and UDF attempted to erase all traces of Kamuzu’s legacy. Unfortunately, UDF did not succeed in achieving absolute conquest, especially in the wake of their abysmal failure to efficiently govern, coupled with the fact that Chakufwa Chihana, whom many Malawians beleive brought democracy, lurked in the fringes to stamp his democratic footprint on the country. As the first leader of this country, Kamuzu, honoured by late Bingu wa Mutharika has a place in our history. Like him or hate him, that is immaterial. His legacy shall outlive all of us.

Kamuzu has for many years been given a whole range of descriptive nouns, from Ngwazi, Mpulumutsi, Nkhoswe Number One, Mchikumbe Number One, Mfiti Number One, Alidzi, and Kamuzu’s most favorite being Dr. Destroyer of Federation, given to him by our Zambian brothers amongst the positive. On the other side of the equation, he was described as a thief, murderer, arrogant and heartlesstyrant, iron fisted ruler, and even as a despot.

But who was Dr. Kamuzu Banda really? For those who worked with him, their descriptions range from; kind man, eloquent, workaholic, no nonsense man and even Church elder of the Church of Scotland amongst many more.

In this series, I shall try as much as possible to keep my own views of the man to myself, if that be at all possible! The intention is not to influence how the individual reader sees Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, but to place his legacy in its true context, at least among the rational thinkers. But if my prejudices inadvertently surface, please do forgive me, I am only human after all.

Story is told of how Harun Al Raschid, the caliph of Baghdad, is believed to have disguised himself as a beggar in order to discover for himself, what his subjects thought of his rule. It is quite unthinkable that Kamuzu would have dressed himself as a charcoal seller in order for him to understand what the people of Mbayani or Ndirande thought about him. I would imagine the disdain of the flatterers who clustered around him and indeed of all leaders with absolute power throughout the world from time in memorial.

I have chosen the theme of “despot or democrat” as the starting point in this series. Agreeing as I may with those who say that despotism, is a catch-all category containing, as they say, large variations, I take the view that the West, often views non-European civilizations, or countries almost invariably to have been ruled despotically. We have chiefs in our societies who enjoy absolute power. I dare not even suggest that the Queen of England, the unelected head of State of Britain would be called despotic although all attributes of despotism would be identifiable albeit subtly. By the European, I for the sake of simplicity, include United States of America here.

The Western imagination, and in this I obviously exclude Russia,repelled by despots – cruel Pharaohs of Egypt, deranged Roman Emperors like Caligula and Nero, countries like America, the so called champions of democracy fall desperately short of the ideal form espoused by the Greek. Democracy, at least in European terms, in dealing with all other countries is not by persuasion. The Greeks, in espousing democracy was fundamentally based on the basic assumptionthat citizens were rational, and the only appropriate relationship between rational beings is persuasion. This of course differs from command in assuming equality between speaker and listener.

Just like Europeans do not like the word “corruption” when money in their governments has gone walkies, preferring rather to seductively call it “sleaze”, their form of despotism has hitherto been described in such affable ideals such as those portrayed by Stalin and Hitler. And in governance, oh, well, need I really say who the current day villains are on the world stage? In most recent times, despotism has been defined along with dictatorship and totalitarianism as a form of government. Do as I say, or do as we say or we shall bomb you to smithereens! That, is my understanding of “persuasion” in the so called new world order.

Kamuzu, loved classical languages. He loved Greek and Latin so much so that he went as far as saying that anybody who had not studied Greek or Latin ought not to call themselves educated at all.Kamuzu might have wanted Malawians to understand the principal adopted by the classical Greeks in terms of how they viewed the relationship betweenstate and citizen. When one looks at the value the classical Greeks attached to politics, one might understand why Kamuzu, a very well read man to boot, wanted his little impoverished Nyasaland to develop in leaps and bounds, underpinned by classical knowledge to any “meaning” education.

Although his opponents spoke tongue in cheek about Kamuzu Academy which offered classical languages like Greek and Latin and termed this otherwise oasis of educational excellence as a waste of money, they, behind the backs of their friends, sent their own children to this very school they described as the apex of political decadence. But Kamuzu admired the magnificent cultures of empires such as Egypt or Persia, leaders of the current civilization. His love for agriculture was unrivalled.

There are those that say he loved excellence to a fault. Sanjika Palace was decked in Persian rugs, only to be replaced by synthetic carpets by his successor from Bombay Bazaar or someone in the same race category. As Du Chisiza Jr once said, the walls and of corners of the toilets of this once opulent edifice were turned into the grotesque only matched by the walls of public toilets at Ntcheu bus depot. Common decency limits me from putting into print what he actually said!

It is said that the essence of despotism is its lack of appeal in practice or in law, the unchecked power of the master. The sole object of citizens, or rather subjects must be to please. I dare say Kamuzu did love to be pleased. Every politician after all loves to be described favorably by those they “serve”. And Kamuzu, the Life President, Ngwazi, Destroyer of Federation, I am very sure of it, loved every bit of it! After all, we all sung, willingly or otherwise, “ZonsezimenezaKamuzu Banda”.In his response, he would burst out in song…“Nyadani, nyadani, nyadani lerooooooo! “

His opponents have argued that there was basically nodemocracy in the country, at least by Western standards. Yes, the same Western countries who went to plant democracy in Iraq by first killing Saddam Hussein. Ask not for they are the very ones who have ably introduced the thriving democracy in Libyaand Syria today. In 1993 the British and Americans saidthat there was no Parliament worth talking about in Malawi and political opportunity arose for some within the country and they rightly seized the vacuum created by the otherwise retreating and apologetic MCP.

They said there was no independent judiciary, private property was not protected by law and from the rapacity of power vested in him as the Ngwazi, to whom all else belonged. They actually argued that nobody had any political voice. Were such assertions to be true, oddly enough, Kamuzu ought to have been a spiritual leader, for it is in that realm that such people flourish. But was he? Did he own everything in the land? Did he steal what his apologists otherwise argued he lawfully acquired? Was he this medieval tyrant who took no advice? Would a despot and tyrant relinquish power without a fight? Or was he a man modelled in the likes of Kwame Nkrumah who saw Africa freeing itself through proper education and industrialization? Because this series is not about Nkrumah, but why were his likes the irk of the so called Western democracies as was Patrice Lumumba?

In the next few weeks, we shall unravel who Kamuzu really was. We shall publish verbatim, correspondence between this so called “tyrant”, “thief”, “despot” and a whole range of personalities. From his uncle to political colleagues within the country and outside the country. This, in the absence of an authorized biography, might contextualize Kamuzu Banda and his political legacy. What did Masauko Chipembere think of Dr. Banda? What did Kanyama Chiume say in private correspondence about Chisiza? Does anybody know or remember Mr. Vincent Gondwe? Does a tyrant need to buy land at all? All these questions will be answered in the coming weeks. Hopefully…

  • The author is a former spin doctor of Malawi Congress Party .
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31 thoughts on “Was Kamuzu Banda a despot or democrat?: Mungomo series on Ngwazi, Part 1”

  1. B.Sattar says:

    Bring back the champion Mr. TEMBO. He will do good for the Country. He is old but what few years he has got, WILL be good for MALAWI.

  2. Mnjonja says:

    what is the use of having this generous, kind hearted leader with no vision for the nation? People’s lifestyles are all time low.

    There is only one thing that should be on the mind of every leader everyday – What can I do to stimulate the economy, to grow more jobs for the our people and elevate the standard of living?

    just look at what is happening now. our people are leaving the country for a better life in South Africa. some of them don’t even know how to express themselves in English. working as nannies and Garden boys and live in shacks. In return the locals don’t want them. They are too many foreigners so they claim, hence the xenophobia attacks. shame on our poor leadership.

  3. fight says:

    Malawi shall never ever have a leader of vision like kamuzu again.Unless God ‘s Blessings are placed on MALAWI .
    Atsogoleri a lero wa are all poikilothemics,good for nothing leaders,

  4. Mwiza says:

    Just a dictator but not a despot. He didn’t come into power by force.

  5. Banda Was Gr8 Leader,

  6. mary says:

    Sapitwa you are just a troubled man in mind, you can’t call The Ngwazi all those names if you really new him,take a look at your country, things that the Ngwazi left still stand tall in our country talk of universities airport s silos roads too numerous to mention. Sapitwa you will die ignorant and your children will be begars for life!!!!

  7. ARICHO says:

    Kamuzu was a man. He built what other idiots are plundering

  8. ChizaLi says:

    Kamuzu had class second to non. Simbuzi zamasiku ano, ntchito kulemba makoma mumaPrison.

  9. jimbo says:

    To Number 15 above: Malawi’s rulers have made a mess of democracy because they don’t fully understand it. There is nothing wrong with democracy per se, it is those who are democratically elected who can’t handle it. It takes many, many years – perhaps hundreds of years – for a country to develop a truly democratic system of government. The Arab states that overthrew their despots will not have a proper functioning democracy for many years into the future, but hopefully it will come in time.

  10. Sapitwa says:

    He was a monster who maimed his own people. He deceived himself that there was no one who was better than him. But just one day when we all were tired of him, we showed him that he was no superhuman and we carried him and threw him into retirement being a broken man. He died a broken man that even only Mugabe as a sitting president came to his funeral. Look at Nyerere’s funeral; all African leaders former and sitting were all there.
    He never developed Malawi because he never allowed to think outside the boxes.
    I don’t miss him at all. May his soul continue to be troubled with the scars he left with us. Even his party MCP will never win again due to the fact that they continue to use his shadow thinking that we liked him; hail no!

    1. Khuth'upa o'Machemba says:

      Sapitwa: Don’t listen to the MCPers’ criticisms. Your comment is succinct and based on facts. Their sentiments are based on nostalgia, nothing else.
      Anybody who has read factual texts about that regime cannot dispute the atrocities of Kamuzu’s regime. He even acknowledged these crimes himself near the end of his life, when he attempted to apologize to the nation. And he claimed he didn’t know most of what was happening. Malawians would not accept that nonsense!
      For example, the Nile crocks in the Shire have never had it so good since those days. MCP’s MYP and Youth Leaguers would rain human bodies on those crocks like manna from heaven. Undeniable. Shameful. And criminal!
      He was a despot or dictator. Totally.
      This has nothing to do with the economic development he oversaw for our country. But please, let us see the whole picture.

  11. Yakowela says:

    If Kamuzu Banda was a democrat then the word democracy needs redifining. Kamuzu was a first rate despot, authoritarian and a ruthless serial killer. I doubt if Malawi is missing him.

  12. Jonathan j.j. says:

    Mr Brian Mungomo Sir,
    With much intersest on your column on Kamuzu being a democrat or despot. Kamuzu to my understanding was just a human being like every jim and jack. He was prone to make mistakes and also do the right things like any other being. I sometimes wonder how to classfy kamuzu as an evil person “who killed his people” or a realy good person who taught his people good farming ways as to produce plenty food for everyone. A simple example: When i was young my father used to beat me up , sometimes badly that i could bleed here and there. Most of the times he couldnt manage buying me a pair of shoe i wanted to wear like my friends used to wear(skuna). Yes it was painful yes my father wasnt a “good” father “he didnt love me”. But despite all these “failulre” he managed to send me school. He always put food on the table for me and my family. So in this case i dont know wheather to call my father an evil person or good person. But sometimes when i sit down and thing about this, i still dont come up with a genuine answer. Because i look at that beating as a way of moulding me into a good boy (mind you) fear breeds charactor. I was a one naughty boy, if my father dindt give a hidding defenetly i could drop out from school in the early age. But at the sametime i think oh no that beating was too much . A real father cant beat his chid in that way. I even asked my mother weather i was adopted child in the manner i was treated. All in all that was i feel tough love. So Kamuzu was just the same. I still remember some speeches of Him though i was young he said; malawi is a young country and it needed a little bit of an iron fist.(words could differ)
    As far as i am concerned, This topic about Kamuzu will take us the whole year discussing withot reaching a compromise. Kamuzu was the MAN

  13. Frodo says:

    truth is, we have never really had a visionary leader, let alone a simple leader. all we get are rulers, and selfish, clueless ones for that matter. to be blunt, the country is always ruled by a cohort of thugs at any time. those who think kamuzu was visionary are simply retarded with the brain function of a goat because they are still hypnotised with the philosophy he impressed upon them. that ‘guy’ kept the nation in his tyrannical clutch, albeit the nation being cosmetically peaceful and stable. this may be proven by the explosion of the chaotic and reckless democratic dispensation. ultimately, all he wanted was eternal personal glory which of course proved to be another act of vanity on this great comedy stage. unfortunately, every ruler after him appears to have suckled from the same breast.

  14. wolangiza says:

    osanamizana amalawi china china mavaridwe munthu ameneyi anari mapeto .osati zasopanodzi or suti osakhala bwino muthupi ramunthu

  15. Charombanthu says:

    I will repeat what I have said before. Amonst the 5 presidents that this country has had, Kamuzu was the most futuristic and development conscious. He might have had his weaknesses in as far as governance and human rights are concerned (afterall, he was only human); but our lives were much better off under Kamuzu compared to the other subsequent 4 leaders under pluralism. As for this series, Mr Mungomo, please give us more so that our children can apprecaite where we are coming from. You cannot erase history – bad or good, it is history from where lessons for the future can be drawn.

  16. phwiyonaire says:

    Libya was better off with Gardaffi, so was Iraq with Saddam, Tunisia and many other countries. No super power nation or persons should impose democracy on a people. Democracy is a good system, but not for every people and society. Some dictatorships, mornachs and authoritarian systems work well for their people. Saudi arabia, UAE and China are some of the good examples. You cant just copy and paste systems. Much as we should cherish our freedom, we should ask ourselves, what direction has the country taken since martiparty democracy came on the scene? Looks like most things took a downward spiral. Did multiparty do our society overall good? May be. But lets be careful of the so called proponents of democracy, they are the first to impose forceful regime changes. They almost bombed Mugabe, and Zimbabwe would have worse than it is right now.
    My point, ngwazi was a lessor evil, democrat or despot. democracy has killed more malawians, violated more human rights, eroded discipline, promoted crime, poverty, and poor service delivery.

  17. Amalawi tiyeni tigwirane manja ponganizira anthu akumudzi mu zintchito zooneka ndi maso osati zongokamba ayi. Masiku ano chida chopemphera ndarama ndi dzina loti akukathandiza munthu wa ku mudzi m’malo mwake kumangodzidyera okha wakumudziyo osapatsidwa kalikonse monga momwe adapemphera. Koma Mulungu akukuonani. Mzimu wa KAMUZU uwuse mu mtendere

  18. My Haphazard Government says:

    Mr Mungomo, I salute you. We need the series for the sake developing of our contemporary history. Am glad you have disclosed your former role as a spin doctor of the MCP, a role which you played very considering the times MCP was sailing through.

    At the end of the day I would be glad if a book could be born out of the series. Consider roping in some ideas from Dr D.D. Phiri. I promise to keenly follow the series.

  19. apundi says says:

    kumeneku kinali ku malawi konkuno kapena kwa Queen Elizabeth, ma body guard kutchenaku. nanga ndunazi. Ameneyu ndiye President weniweni osankhidwa ndi Mulungu osati zinazi zosankhidwa ndi anthuzi ayi.

  20. apundi says says:

    No1 and No 2 mukunena zoona, bola Kamuzu, enewa ndi mbuzi za anthu, kukondera anthuwa.

  21. Mwana wa kwa Msulira says:

    Mr Mungomo, your series will help us to revisit what performance based government was. Yes, Kamuzu may have been a difficult man, but no society ever developed with everybody thinking they are in charge as has been the case since Kamuzu left government. Every body has been plundering the economy from Bakili, Mutharika, Joyce Banda. That is why the civil servants joined the looting because you can not be sending a civil servant to steal on your behalf and expect him not keep something for himself. That is why we have the likes of Paul Mphwiyo today, because they were simply exploiting, not a loop hole, but an open door to plunder. Just look at the picture, one sees government…not the mediocrity of today.

  22. Alex Likoswe says:

    He was a despot period. A rotten groundnut is a rotten groundnut. We would have achieved more if he were a democrat.

  23. Thomas Louis Munthali says:

    Brian
    I am looking forward to the series it will be an eye opener to many of us and we can draw a lot of lessons from this. Viva Malawi Viva!!

  24. Mnjonja says:

    Every institution needs discipline and an operating model OR system. Kamuzu established that. Bright and purposeful at all times – “formidable central spine”. He had all Government Departments working.

    Look at other people, they speak, speak, speak and no action

    Yes, no one entertains barbaric actions towards other people. However, the same is happening under current leadership in a different way. nepotism, favouritism, greediness, low quality lifestyle, dysfunctional Government entities – kind of mental nurture.

  25. Guard says:

    MCP should not use the name of Kamuzu in vain. We were one-party state then and Kamuzu was for us all. He is a symbol of one nation not MCP.

  26. Blessed Banda says:

    Publish your work into a book Mungomo. Our history will help us to shape our destiny.

  27. Mnjonja says:

    The critical mandate of any leader is to improve the lifestyle of their citizens. Kamuzu precisely did that. who does a leader lead? their people. And as such a leader has to be people’s centric. Kamuzu was very close to his people. Think of the crop inspection tours, rallies and meetings across the country. Agriculture is the backbone of MW economy. Kamuzu had several farms or estates of his own just to be exemplary. yes that contributed to the GDP. Everyone has their weaknesses and strengths. Kamuzu’s strengths were concrete. school leavers had jobs in abundance @ Admarc, PTC, Chipiku stores, MDC,DAVID WHITEHEAD ETC. He established powerful Government enterprises- extremely amazing.TO those who don’t know Kamuzu incentives included free travel warrants for civil servants and their families, concession tickets for students( paid half the fare) for travelling, University was free and students got monthly allowances, commercial animal husbandry such as Dzalanyama launch-meat in abundance at Cold storage, extensive poultry at Admarc – eggs in plenty. WOW!

  28. Zidura Ntengo Undigwere says:

    He was a tin pot dictator. Period.
    The title should have read “Was Kamuzu Banda a despot”? Thus making it rhetorical.
    Even if he’s judged by African standards of the time, he was one of the worst governors. To wit: many his African contemporaries, like Nyerere, Kaunda or Kenyatta never committed the human rights atrocities Kamuzu is well known for. That cannot be denied in our history; just as the infrastructure he was instrumental in building.
    The guy might have had good tastes, albeit many of them misplaced, but that does not replace good governance, or respect for other human beings. And don’t forget: much of the respect accorded him was more or less forced, especially in the latter years. His regime eventually developed into a diabolical one, to be sure.

  29. Dr Moo Tha Leeker says:

    Kamuzu was man and a half. Interms of nzeru, is same as saying tisungunule nzeru za a Professor Pitara okwana 1000 to make nzeru or ubongo wa Kamuzu. Pitara nzeru alibe, ndi burutu ongodziwa za tsankho, ine kukondera alhomwe amihavani. Kkkkkkk. Nyasi za mtundu

  30. Malaza says:

    All I care about is that my quality of life was much better under Kamuzu Banda than under Clueless Mathanyula.

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